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Injury caused by dog compensable under workers comp law: Tenn. high court

Posted On: Dec. 6, 2011 12:00 AM CST

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a man’s shoulder injury caused by his dog is compensable under the state’s workers compensation law.

David Kirby was performing heating, ventilation and air conditioning work for Memphis Jewish Nursing Home in September 2008, and hurt his right shoulder while trying to avoid falling down a flight of stairs. He underwent surgery in June 2009 to repair a tendon and cartilage in his arm, according to court records.

Several months after his surgery, Mr. Kirby returned home after a medical appointment to find one of his dogs running loose. He grabbed the dog by its collar and, when the dog attempted to pull away, reinjured his arm.

A Tennessee Chancery Court ruled that Mr. Kirby did not act negligently when he tried to restrain his dog, and that the second injury was “a natural consequence of the original injury,” records show. The court awarded 40% permanent partial disability benefits to Mr. Kirby, based on the original injury and impairment from the dog accident.

The nursing home appealed. It argued that the second accident should be considered an intervening injury and not be compensable under Tennessee workers comp law.

Doctor’s advice

However, the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court’s decision last week. In its unanimous ruling, the panel cited testimony from Mr. Kirby’s doctor, who encouraged Mr. Kirby to “push past his limits” while recovering from arm surgery.

The doctor also said Mr. Kirby was not restricted from walking his dog after the arm procedure.

Though it upheld the compensability decision, the Supreme Court panel reduced Mr. Kirby’s permanent partial disability benefits to 25%, ruling that the lower court miscalculated his benefits.